Retire? In our moment of insolvency?

So … apparently some 60% of Americans have less than $25,000 in savings and investments according to a Bloomberg article. Approximately 14% are confident that they will be capable of retiring when the time comes at age 65. For most, the plan is to continue working beyond 65 in order to be able to retire at all.

Ok, first of all, some of this is not the fault of those individuals. When one is living literally cheque to cheque and bills gobble up all available cash on a constant basis, it is hardly their fault that they have very little savings. Of course, that greatly depends on the nature of the bills. Need money for food = fine. Need money for another $300 trip to the salon like you have 2 weeks ago = not so much. As sure as there are individuals that struggle to make ends meet, there are just as many (if not more) that choose to live like that. That choose to take on as much debt as they are possibly capable of and live all their “tomorrow” days in the here and now.

But there is another problem here, a little more obscure. Those that choose to live like this more so than the others that do not have a choice are necessarily ruining the job market for the young trying to come up themselves. Easy enough to just casually say “you’ll just work  little longer”. Each day an individual does not vacate their job when they’ve reached the age of retirement is another day that a new individual will not hold that job. I understand that the economics are bad now, but for a good portion, this is a fault of trying to live beyond ones means as opposed to living within them. People see “the good life” and want it, but they cannot afford it. But they can rent it out for a short period at the expense of their future comfort and that of the next generation.

Don’t get me wrong here. I am not saying that older workers are not valuable. They will toot their own horns on that – telling us all about their “experience” with a position or in working in general. I need not point out the insipidity of pointing out you have experience while denying anyone else the ability to gather that same experience. But beyond even this, we need to realize that experience is not everything. Younger bodies, faster minds, new ideas count as well. Those that dig deep and remain in a position can doom it to stagnation while they are there. Yes, they are experienced . Yes, they have been good workers. But isn’t there a time when they need to be laid aside, thanked for their work, and left behind by the business? As I stated, this helps them but hurts the new comers that need jobs to get on their feet. Might just be me, but it seems wrong to force a young person to wait until they are 30 or 35 to get a job most boomers had when they were 20.

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Legislating reality

Ok …. 0_o

So the Republicans in Congress down in the states were defeated in a bill yesterday. No biggie – happens all the time to both parties down there, right? Someone tries to get a bill passed and it meets with defeat. This can be good and bad depending on the bill. SOPA was murdered? That’s good. Socialized healthcare was neutered? That’s bad. Some of them might be a matter of opinion as to the good and the bad, but the fact remains that some will be defeated and some will pass.

But this little one from yesterday is right up there among the most moronic bills they have tried to pass in recent years. I mean this from a straight-up “failure of reality” standpoint. One similar to the “Pizza is a Vegetable” stupidity. Now, I know that one was related to the tomato sauce on the pizza, but it was still knuckle-dragging stupid and even the people that defended it should be honest about that. But this one tops that by miles. Had it passed, it would have been one more notch toward proving that the Republicans are insane.

They had a bill put forward that was trying to declare that the Bush Tax Cuts had nothing to do with the deficit. Not one thing. Think about that for a moment. They wanted to state for the legal record that the trillion dollar cuts to the Federal Government’s income had nothing at all to do with the inability of Government to pay its expenses. Are you seeing what I’m getting at here – Government slashes its revenues, revenues it needs to pay for its many programs, Departments, employees, and so forth. It still needs to pay for these things after the cuts because it never cuts these programs at the same time to keep cash in the same as cash out. So it …. come on, say it with me here … borrows long term debt to pay for short term expenses. But that has nothing to do with the deficit and you’d be a fool and a communist to state otherwise. Takes one’s breathe away, doesn’t it?

How utterly and completely stupid. No, that’s putting down the stupid. How absolutely and utterly shit-brained. These people are literally shitheads. Can you imagine trying to legislate that into reality; basically, they are trying to legislate reality. It would be the same as legislating the sky as being Yellow, lava as cold, gravity as intelligent falling, or so on. This is asinine in its stupidity and ridiculous in the level of bald-faced lie that it represents. People – facts are not democratic. They cannot be voted on – they are or they are not. Tax cuts increase debt and deficit if there is no corresponding cut to service – that is a fact. As much a fact as electrons being attracted to positive charges. As much a fact as that the earth revolves around the sun. As much a fact as humans needing oxygen to breathe and live. These are facts. That bullshit that they tried to pull is fantasy – no, not just fantasy, but purposefully misleading bullshit designed to give themselves and their republican supporter assholes a supposed means of winning arguments about the tax cuts and the deficit. They are dead set on the deficit being anything but their fault and they are willing to lie to make it so.

How the hell do you people put up with them?

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Car Crash Fever

Found out about this little site from an article discussion on Fark that complies videos of car crashes. Nothing gory or explicit, just normal car crashes. People losing control of their vehicles, fender benders and that sort of thing. Link: http://carcrashes.altervista.org

Watching some of those videos, I can’t help but cringe. Again, not because there’s blood flying around or any excessive injuries displayed. The videos are mainly just two vehicles colliding with nothing of the aftermath being displayed, so it’s not “squick” that is making me cringe (not that it would). Instead, it’s the near universal aggressive or careless manner of the driving that causes me to flinch when watching. Which prompts this little post.

Not that everyone needs to hear this, but I’m going to throw it out there anyway. Here are a couple of things one should be able to bring away from these videos:

1. Motorcyclists of every type (scooters, Harleys, etc) – you are not above the law, beside it or otherwise around it. You have to obey the rules of the road just as any other vehicle has to. This means that you are not allowed to circle around a car that is legally stopped in the lane to continue along. As many of the riders in the videos discover, a stopped car is frequently stopped for a reason. Be it to let another car go by, a red light, a pedestrian or whatever, they are stopped for good reason. Going around them is not just illegal, it’s retarded. Red lights apply to you. Stop signs apply to you. Signal lights on other vehicles indicating intent apply to you.

2. Another for the cyclists – you vehicle is not a steamroller and it is certainly far from the biggest thing on the road. You need to be vigilant when driving more so than those in other vehicles, if for no other reason than that yours is so much smaller than the others. A slip in a car at 60 km results in minor injuries. A slip on a scooter at 40 km can result in major injuries or death. Pay heed to the vehicles and what they are up to – remember that, because you are on a motorcycle, you are basically invisible to other traffic.

When we drive, we watch for other vehicles by loading icons of sorts. Most people automatically load the car icon, the truck, the van, the transport truck, and so forth. But pedestrians and motorcycles are not loaded, mostly because they are not considered a threat. In some accidents with either, you will hear the driver say that they didn’t see the person – they are partially telling the truth. They didn’t notice them as they were not a threat. This is made worst when the biker does the things noted above – it’s a formula for injury.

3. Pedestrians are another one. You really should cross the road at designated crosswalks. you are not guaranteed safety from jackass drivers and other morons, but it sure helps. “But it’s all the way over there in the wrong direction.” Yeah, I understand what you mean. Easier for a vehicle to make up time than you. But if you must jaywalk, do keep the following tips in mine. Make sure the way is clear. I mean, that thing we tell children about looking both ways? It’s good sense – make sure to do that. Don’t dash out from between parked cars and large ones especially. Don’t try to “just make it before that car” – you are not a Olympic sprinter and even if you are, you cannot run at full speed immediately from a dead stop. That car is covering distance faster than you. Better a little later to your destination than injured or dead. And for the love of all that is sweet and delicious on this planet, wear something reflective! It really, really helps. If someone can see you, they are a lot less likely to hit you. Too many of those vids have pedestrians that are hit because they were wear black in the dark and crossing a busy road.

4. Don’t be aggressive jackasses on the road, drivers. Speeding, weaving between traffic, cutting others off – it all counts as aggressive driving. And it gets you nowhere. Even you destination. Do you realize that over the course of an entire trip to work, speeding and pushing may save you, at most, 5 minutes on the drive. And that’s a pretty optimistic estimate. Aggression makes you less apt to observe conditions as well as leave you will less time to react according to danger ahead. Many of the accidents there are due to simple speed – the individual is travelling too fast to react to a sudden problem on the road. You have to realize that a vehicle travelling at 60 km/h requires about 20 meters of hard braking to stop – that’s about 66 feet. The average vehicle is about 15 feet long which means you need more than 4 car lengths of space to stop. Add to that the time to see the problem, understand it is a problem, and react and you likely need at least triple that. If you’re speeding, that ain’t going to be available.

5. Snow means slow. Rain means slow. The road is not a “one speed fits all conditions” surface. If there’s rain on the road, you cannot hydroplane at 60 km or lower per hour – it is physically impossible. If there’s snow on the road, you are a lot less likely to lose control at 30 or 40 km than you are at 80. It’s common sense – when the conditions deteriorate, slow down.

6. Inattentive driving. When you are trying to merge into traffic, look for other traffic. They are in the thoroughfare and they have the right of way. They also have no reason to bow before you and let you out. They are going to drive on – don’t bet on their curtiousness or their own attention. When switching lanes, keep your eye on other vehicles – again, they have no obligation to let you in. The signal is a sign of intent to them so that they can get on guard for whatever bonehead idiocy you are about to pull, but it does not guarantee compliance.

The great tip to all driving is the oldest one – be defensive. Most people seem to have lost sight of what that means, so I will re-write it for the modern age. Drive you car, your motorcycle, your truck or even walk like everyone else is out to hit you. Seriously. If you drive like you believe everyone is trying to strike your vehicle at every chance, then you will be more defensive. That guy signaling to get in there? He’s coming whether you’re there or not. That guy hanging in the left hand turning lane? He’s turning when the light goes red for him and green for you. That guy riding your bumper? He’s going to be aboard of it if you so much as sneeze. Drive like everyone else is a maniacal idiot and give them the respectful distance that such lunatics deserve. You’ll have a whole lot less dings in your car.

 

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Retirement idiocy

Do you want to retire someday?

Most people will answer yes to that question. Hell, who wouldn’t? Unless you have one of the most amazing jobs in the world (booby inspector, chocolate taster, etc), you will get to the point where you will no longer want to work anymore. This is inevitable – as we age, we slow down and work generally becomes more difficult. Few wish to work until the day they die … though, as I state this, I realize that this is one of those “first world problem” things. True, in third world nations, the general tendency is to work until death, so this is a bit of an elitist mentality, but bear with me here.

Anyway, retirement. We all want to do it with few exceptions. Now, the problem of late with that idea has been with the composition of the population. There are more old people than there are young and that is causing a heavy drain on retirement resources. In Canada, this means a drain on the OAS and GIS. The OAS is the Old Age Security payment provided by the government to all individuals in the country over the age of 65. The GIS is the Guaranteed Income Supplement that provides an extra boost to income for those individuals on OAS that do not get enough money to make ends meet. Canada also has the CPP – the Canadian Pension Plan, but that is a contributions plan, requiring you to work and have paid in to get money out.

Anyway, recently, the Conservative Party (whom currently makes up the Government) has let it be known that there will need to be some changes to the OAS and GIS so that these payment programs can remain viable. One such plan is to increase the age that one gets these payments to 67 from 65. That one, I don’t have a big problem with as such. People are living longer and so forth so it does make some sense to do that. However, their other plan is to create a new type of retirement savings plan that people can contribute to, similar to the RSP that many large employers operate. Only with two key differences. The first is that these will be established by employers through third party organizations, as opposed to being employer run. The second is that there are no employer contributions to these plans. These are for the employee to fund and them alone. Funds will be placed into the hands of financial institutions that will invest the money in the market. All risks will be borne by the employee. If the market tanks and the fund manager had it in a retarded location, too bad. You’re retirement is gone.

What’s my problem with this plan? Let me see. The reliance on the market to accrue the value into the fund for the individual to retire. One shift of the market and you have nothing. Oh, what’s that? The markets are always going up? You’re … you’re right! How naive of me? How could I forget that it has increased over these years?! I have to go take a look at this bastion of gain right now …. Wait a minute. Why is this company trading for $100 a share that month and $5 the next? Why … if I didn’t know better, I’d say that the increase in the market is the average performance of all stocks over the indices over time. That average hides dizzying highs (that you cannot get a piece of) and terrible lows (that you somehow get caught holding the bag for). Strange that – the market is completely unstable. You’re better off betting it all on black at Vegas. At least they’re upfront about being there to rip you off.

So my first concern is that the market does not a retirement guarantee. What of bonds or financial instruments? Funny, we already have that in the RRSP, the Registered Retirement Savings Program. A program that allows you to invest money tax free when you are younger and paying higher tax and take it out when you are old and paying lower tax. That does the job well enough, though it must be taken back into income over time or you risk getting it dumped in and paying out the ass for it.

But my second concern is for that guy over there, the individual that makes a fairly low wage. You know, the one living cheque to cheque. The one without savings of any kind. The one that cannot afford to invest in any sort of retirement. The individual that relied on the Government program existing to, you know, survive when they retire. This program is not going to help them – quite the opposite. When the time comes, they will be the people either homeless or sitting at the mall all day to stay warm because they can’t afford to heat their place. You can make all the savings plans and investment plans and such that you like. If the money is not there to put into them, then when retirement comes, they’re shit out of luck.

The only humor to all that is that the old are the largest of all voting blocks. How long do you think putting them out to pasture with nothing will actually work, hmmm?

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The media bias!

What media?

The Liberal Media! One of those terms that you hear that you just get used to, even parrot yourself on occasion. “Liberal media”. Rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it? Didn’t used to, but that was before a concerted effort was made to make the term become firmly associated with the news media. It’s an indictment of the media – an attempt to accuse it of having a particular bias. A bias toward left leaning thought, of handling those on the left with kid gloves and ruthlessly attacking the right, and showing contempt for all things conservative.

Old Newt is the most recent politician to spout this canard to the public. His assertion recently has been that the liberal media hates him and is actively trying to destroy his campaign. He also implied that Obama would not have gotten in were it not for the media. The article where this stuff can be seen is located here: http://townhall.com/columnists/larryelder/2012/01/26/creators_oped/page/full/

To be blunt, this is bullshit. Let’s break down the reasons why:

The first (in this case) is that Obama’s opponent was not exactly a contender in that election. One cannot blame the media for a lame candidate and an even more ridiculous vice president pick. To be fair, Biden is not exactly a five star candidate either, but he wisely kept his mouth shut for most of the campaign.

The media does have a bias, but it tends more toward common sense. Claiming that it is “liberal” seems to basically make the claim that common sense is “liberal”. That is not the case – liberals no more have a locked grip on common sense than conservatives. Some conservatives treat any criticism of them as an attack by the media due to bias, but it is this common sense that is the root of the attack. Stating that Santorum is a homophobic bigot is not liberal bias – it’s merely repeating what he said and drawing the obvious conclusion from it. A man cannot say that homosexuals should be kept from the military or marriage to ensure our moral purity without being called a homophobe. Not because of liberal bias – but because he is a homophobe. Simple as that.

The other reason is that the effect of this supposed bias is that they cannot engage in hate speech, anti-islamic rhetoric, or other forms of bile without someone, somewhere pointing out that it is what it is – bigotry and hate and so forth. If your financial grasp is akin to that of an ignorant and petulant child – constantly spouting poorly thought out and mindless crap like “we need lower taxes to stimulate more jobs” even if all the other drops in taxes did not such thing and the media calls you on it? Tough shit, asshole. Your ideas do not conform to reality. That is not bias – it’s reality.

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Out of the SOPA …

… and into the ACTA.

We’ve all heard of SOPA and its retarded relative that were passing through the US House of Representatives. We all heard how it was going to destroy the Internet as we knew it, render it into a barren wasteland of controlled acts run by mega-conglomerates. And we all know how the Internet rallied and put it on indefinite hold or even killed the damn thing. Go Internet!

Well, wouldn’t you know it, but the old saying is true: the price of freedom is eternal vigilance. Much as TED Talks has indicated in a rather popular piece about SOPA that a speaker at TED did recently. Here is a link to this talk – let me note that it came out just a week or two ago (Early January 2012) which was pretty good timing as it turned out. http://www.ted.com/talks/defend_our_freedom_to_share_or_why_sopa_is_a_bad_idea.html

The price of this victory over those that seek to force the Internet to conform and obey is simple – we will have to be vigilant against similar acts against us in the future. And in the present. For while SOPA was finally able to draw some mainstream media attention and get the backs of the collective Internet up, another agreement has been silently slipping by us all, undetected. This one, however, is much more insidious. For this is not an act of the US House or the Canadian Parliament, or any of the countries involved. Rather, this is a new trade agreement that has been on the go for some time. A trade agreement called ACTA, which is meant to outline and empower governments internationally to be capable of using SOPA-like powers and more. This is an agreement that has been arranged in secret – though we know that they have been doing it due to leaks and such, we did not get an idea of its full contents until recently. And those contents are terrifying. Closure of websites, removal from DNS, tracking and suing individuals that violate copyright … hell, even stopping you from buying generic brand drugs instead of the expensive brand name ones. This one has it all. And not a word has been breathed about it. Not one word in the Media. Yet this is an act that plans on destroying the Internet as surely as SOPA would have wished to have done.

We need to do what we did to SOPA to ACTA. Contact your representative; get involved in boycotts of service, the works. This agreement covers the EU, Canada, the US, Mexico, and Japan. We all need to get on board to killing this bastard too.

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War on common sense

Recently, the Liberal Party of Canada announced that it was making a platform change on its stance toward illegal drugs. They announced that it was now the position of the Party that Marijuana would be legalized if they are voted into power in the next election cycle. They have reasons – trying to attract the stoner vote is one – but in any case that is their position.

It’s a position that I happen to agree fully with. Let me preface this with a declaration: I don’t do drugs of any kind or type. The closest I come these days is alcohol and I have a single ounce of that a night mixed into soda. The alcohol content of the types I drink is such that it can be considered negligible. I don’t smoke tobacco or imbibe caffeine, nor do I take any controlled substance. Marijuana, meth, heroin, cocaine, crack, E, pain killers, and so forth – I don’t touch them. I don’t need them and I do not prefer the idea of altering my perceptions as it tends to allow individuals people to fool my senses. That lack of control over my body is not desirable to me.

That said, I have nothing against anyone taking any of these substances, even to their own personal detriment, as long as it does not affect others negatively. That even goes for alcohol – be a drunk if you must, just don’t kill or hurt anyone in the process. Crack? Sure, if you think you don’t mind the negative effects of imbibing the substance, go right on ahead. Especially Marijuana though – it is as harmless a drug as nicotine or even more so. I have yet to find any solid evidence that it causes lung cancer like tobacco. Take anything you want, just keep it to yourself.

Part of the reason for this stance is that I am a political, economic and social pragmatist. I am fairly centered in my views. From that position, the issue of drug use is one that edges on the Liberal – Libertarian side of my thought process. Legalize and regulate within reason. People should be free to do what they wish to their bodies. The Government should be there to regulate the industry in regards to standards for the production and sale of the products.

The reason I bring this up is an article from the UK. Apparently, the Government there is re-opening the decisions on the legality of drugs there after a 10 year gap. An article on the matter provides the opinion that these substances should be legal as it would decrease crime and increase revenue. See the article here: http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/politics/2012/01/24/drugs-laws-is-legalisation-an-acceptable-alternative-115875-23714663/

As I stated, I agree with this stance. The revenues would be a welcome addition to Government coffers, there would be less need for prisons and the components that go with that, the number of violent crimes would decrease, the amount of police to handle more serious crimes would increase, and criminal organizations that depend on the trafficking would find themselves without steady income.

Yes, that includes all manners of drugs. The current prohibitions have done nothing to curb use. Use has actually increased along with population so the “war” has been meaningless. Some argue that legalization would open the door for children to start taking them in mass amounts. That does not really make any sense – regular restrictions would govern the sale to minors and the regulation would have a chilling effect on the “cool” factor of use. You aren’t sticking it to the man when you do them – you are actually paying him for the privilege. The negatives of a few children using are more than negated by the benefits of eliminating the criminal organizations that use it as their funding model. Besides, kids can get them now about as easily. There are always going to be individuals who will do these things – legal or illegal will not matter. It is on their parent to indicate the difference of taking the drug or not.

The upshot is that something different needs to be done. The war on drugs has been waged for decades and it hasn’t made a single inch in progress. Billions are wasted on it and individuals are criminalized for puffing on the dried leaves of a plant. This would be fine if it worked, but it doesn’t work. It has never worked. It is a money pit, nothing more. Only lunatics keep trying the same thing over and over expecting a different result. Cut it off and try something new.

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Gotta gulp this one down.

So the city of New York Department of Health has recently changed its ad campaign regarding the dangers of obesity. Specifically, this new campaign is on the prowl against fast food joints that offer larger or “super sized” portions on their menu.

Link to the article: http://cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/01/10/in-new-ads-health-department-offers-super-sized-warnings/

The Department is using scare tactics to make individuals think twice about purchasing these portion sizes, noting that (in the ad in the article) the instances of Type 2 Diabetes has increased over the years which can lead to limb amputation. Scary stuff! As an aside, you might ask “is it true?” Yes, it is true. The picture goes a little far in its depiction, but diabetes can lead to amputations. From my research, it is frequently foot amputation that results, caused by a reduction in the Diabetes sufferer to feel pain in their extremities. This causes them to ignore injuries to the foot, leading to ulceration and gangrene and eventual removal of the limb. It’s an extreme take on the matter – the actual incidences of ulceration in diabetic patients is 2 – 3%, but the number of them that require amputation is 85%. So while it might be extreme, it is true.

But I did not come here to talk about amputation or even diabetes. No, I am here to discuss a little something in the article, a quote from a representative of the Beverage Association. From the Article:

“Portion control is indeed an important piece of the solution to obesity,” said Stefan Friedman, a spokesman for the association. “But instead of utilizing scare tactics, the beverage industry is offering real solutions like smaller portioned containers and calorie labels that show the number of calories in the full container, right up front, to help people choose products and sizes that are right for them and their families.”

Let’s break this down a little. First off, right away he has a point – portion control is a very important component of controlling obesity. I know – I lost a lot of weight myself using just that. What about the second part of the quote? The point about the smaller containers and the calorie labels? Well, that’s …. not so good a point. I mean, the idea behind it is sound and it appears to be intended to help. But the reality is that it won’t really help the situation, either for obesity or diabetes. Let me explain what I mean. To do that, you need to understand a little something about calories.

Calories are in just about everything we eat. Save water which is needed as a transfer / mixing / suspension / etc fluid in the body, everything we eat or drink otherwise is caloric. This is a fact – the reasoning to support it is simple – there is no reason to eat something (biologically speaking) unless it is providing sustenance. Sustenance comes in the form of proteins, nutrients, minerals, fats, and sugars. The first two are used for cell production; the material is used to produce copies of DNA when cells split. Minerals are used to transfer oxygen, regulate processes and other large scale operations as well as provide very large scale structural building material (think calcium for bones). Fat provides slow energy to the system as well as building materials for things like cell walls. Sugar primarily provides energy to the system. Each cell is a motor and each motor needs fuel to burn. Sugar is that fuel – interestingly, your homeostatic system partially depends on this fuel use to provide heat to the body. One of the reasons we are “warm blooded” mammals.

A beverage producer means any company that makes fluids that we consume. Bottled water, soda, coffees, and so forth. Water is not part of the problem here (no calories) and it is (thankfully) one of the better selling drinks products to at least a portion of the populace. The problem is in the drinks that carry calories in them – the non-diet sodas, milk, and cream infused coffees and so forth. These beverages can provide a great number of calories to an individual very quickly, calories that you will absorb as readily as you will from food (you can thank evolution for that trick).

So, enough with the biology stuff, what’s the problem with his second point? The problem is two-fold. The first problem is that, as he states, the industry is offering “options” to individuals regarding beverage sizes. Oh really? Options, you say? Yeah! Give people the chance to buy a small amount of the product. What’s the problem with that? Well, it sort of completely misses the point of the ads. The ad in that article is pointing out that beverage sizes have been increasing over the years. Implied in that statement is the fact that people have been purchasing and drinking these larger sizes. They already have the “choice” to buy the smallest member of the line-up. They aren’t doing that – they are buying the largest product they can. Human nature, really.

Granted, the smallest member is not the smallest any more. One of the members over at Fark pointed out that Wendy’s announced that they were eliminating their super size portions some years ago. They did it, but not how you might think. They actually eliminated the smallest sizes and renamed the medium, large, and super into the small, medium, and large. In one motion, they increased their serving sizes permanently and fairly sneakily when you think about it. You don’t have the choice to go for a lower caloric amount because they simply do not provide it. In fact, they are playing pretty loose with the names of their meals, so much so that one might get fooled into believing they are having a modest amount of calories when they are having anything but.

This leads to the second problem. People are people and most do not give much thought to the calories that they see listed on the sides of products. I sure as hell didn’t when I was a fatass. Those calorie things were for the health nuts was my thought. You didn’t need to be that worried about them. Besides, they can’t add up that fast. What I was operating from, and what most people out there operate from, was blind, optimistic ignorance. I didn’t really know that much about calories or how weight really worked. The diet fad and junk food industries had a hand in that lack of knowledge. But the blame was mine too. Sure, the signal to noise ratio was and is atrocious, but I wasn’t exactly eager to learn either. During that time of my life, telling me that there were 80 calories in one thing and 220 in another was irrelevant. I didn’t know how much I needed and I didn’t figure that they added up that fast anyway. Hopefully some of you reading this know exactly where I’m coming from on this.

Not only did I not know the ins and outs of calories and weight, I didn’t care to know. A sort of intentional ignorance mixed with the other. I didn’t want to hear that my eating was my problem. That would have made me to blame for this, even if just partly and I didn’t want to hear that. Printing how many calories were in a soda to the side was irrelevant to me. It was not going to stop me from drinking it. Hell, I’d almost drink it to spite “them”. You know, those people that didn’t want me to enjoy eating. Screw them, they don’t know how this works either.

That is the attitude of the average man – they don’t care what it says on the side of the container. Those are just words and numbers. They don’t apply to them. Hell, they’re exaggerating it anyway. If I don’t need that much soda, then why do they sell it in that size? And that’s the other shoe, ladies and gentlemen. That is why that man, well intentions or not, is wrong. Giving people the numbers on the side? Meaningless; they don’t know how much they need, how much they had, and most simply won’t do the math. Smaller sizes? Useless; why are the bigger ones there if you don’t need them? The Associations response is to basically do as they have done before. Big surprise – that’s their profit margins they’re dealing with there.

Not that I am defending the ad itself. Amputee and big gulp cups? Might impact some, most for a few shamed minutes until the ad is gone and they go back to gobbling down food as they usually do.

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Talk Sense Podcast Ep 1

 

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Episode 1: Religion and Identity Formation

Intro and Welcome
Hello, and welcome to the rational skeptics society début pod cast. This series, entitled “Talk Sense”, aims to deal with various issues surrounding free-thinking, from the dangers posed by religious wish-thinking, to the downright absurdity of conspiracy theories. We explore why secularism and humanitarianism are better sources of morality, and form better platforms for government and national policy making than the religious alternatives. Ever wondered why belief in a deity is intellectually untenable? Talk Sense touches on the logical fallacies that make such beliefs untenable, elaborates on the reasons why atheism is not the same as religion, and explores many of the misconceptions perpetuated about atheists and atheism in general, as well as delving into the deeper philosophies of the human condition. Please feel free to visit us at http://www.rationalskepticssociety.com/

In this episode we are going to look at religion and how it is used to form identities at both the individual and group levels. We will see how when humans use religion as a method of identity formation rather than as a source of philosophy or morality, they are less likely to notice or give credence to the internal contradictions and inaccuracies of individual bible teachings, as these mean less than the overall goal of group identity and belonging to one group or another.

Humans as Social Animals
In order to fully understand the power of identity formation, it is first necessary to understand a little about the human animal. We as animals, have evolved in such a way as to be social, that is individual humans have a greater chance of survival and propagation of our genes, if we belong to a wider community. The size of such communities which offer the best chances of survival have been calculated by anthropologists to be around 150-200 individuals. Now this is important, because humans evolved in communities of limited size, and because these communities would have been in competition for limited resources, the communities whose members felt compelled to go to greater lengths to secure more resources would have been more successful. This basic premise is the foundation for the first forms of governance, since it is likely that the communities in which alpha individuals had a large number of followers would be more successful than communities in which the alpha members had smaller numbers of followers, if for no other reason than more hands gather more food. It would be interesting to see if there is a correlation between the optimum tribe size calculated by anthropologists and the ability to gather and feed that number of individuals versus greater and few numbers.

Given that community size has a relationship with both communal and individual success; it is not too much of a stretch to say that maintaining tribe size is fairly important. So how best to stop the tribe becoming too big or too small? One way would be through employing group identity. I should stress that there is no conscious effort to control tribe size, rather it is under the influence of a selection pressure, namely that any tribe which didn’t use group identity was more likely to grow or shrink to a size which would ultimately force members to try to join another more successful tribe, if the new tribe does use group identity, then there is an increased risk that the new comers would be treated with hostility, especially if the new tribe was already operating near to its optimum size.

When the first group identities were formed, I imagine religion would still have been nothing more than an abstract set of superstitious rituals, there is certainly no reason to assume that it was involved in the initial group identities when first they formed. It is easy to imagine though, that as time passed, these rituals became more and more of a group activity which helped to cement relationships between the individuals of any given tribe. As these rituals became more and more elaborate, so too the identity of the group and the sense of belonging to that group would have increased. This is something I call the extended family cohesion idea, because it is highly likely that members of any given tribe would be closely related to nearly every other member of that tribe, and just like families today, we tend to spend more time and therefore form stronger identity bonds, with close relatives, and as the relative becomes more distant we spend less time with them, and therefore tend to form weaker identity bonds with them. These rituals would have served as an excellent common activity that would have helped strengthen identity bonds with other tribe members who may not have made up the immediate family of any given individual, again helping to cement group identity by reinforcing the sense of belonging.

With these three components in place, an interesting thing is likely to have occurred. As the rituals became more complex and rules for their observance put in place, some of the aspects which make family units, and communities successful, namely the notion of a leader which protects and provides, seeped into the rituals. Essentially the rituals evolved into the first proto-religions. So by aping the hierarchical nature of families and on a larger scale, communities, religions dupe people into conferring unwarranted respect to the rituals, superstitions and ultimately stories which make up the religion. This mechanism actually has an evolutionary component to it as well. Since every family, with or without religion, functions best as a part of a community of like-minded individuals, any religion, cult, or set of rituals, which did not provide for familial identity to grow into community identity, would ultimately die out. This is consistent with the religions we see in the world today, there is no religion which does not do this and which is growing its member base.

These three things, family, community and ritual work together to aid the creation and maintenance of identity and can be seen at work today in things like nationalism. Nearly every time a politician has an extra marital affair the media make a huge furore even though having sex with someone other than the marital partner has absolutely no impact on the ability of that individual to do the job they have been employed to do. Children in the US have to stand each morning and recite some words in order to reinforce the sense of American identity. When a terrorist attack takes place politicians usually appeal to the population to “stand together and show we will not be defeated”, they essentially ask that we use the attack to help cement our national identity, and in doing so, solidify the other or out group, which is now the common enemy.

It can be seen in sport through the ritual haka performed by the New Zealand rugby union squad, for example, the in group/out group mentality as demonstrated by supporters of one football team or another, which incidentally can also lead to conflicts with supporters of rival teams. Even the tools used are the same, in the case of sport it is symbols in the form of uniforms and badges as well as chants and songs, in nationalism it is the colour schemes used by left or right wing political groups, national flags and national anthems. The evolutionary element is also present in sport in so far as, individuals which identify strongly with the team tend to be better team workers and hence improve the overall performance of the team. The same can be said of the military wing of a nation, were soldiers are positively encouraged to form strong identity bonds with their various regiments.

So what are the implications of religion as an identity rather than an answer to where we came from?

If we look at religion as a way to form, and reinforce identities we quickly see why today, religious people take disproportionate offence when the religion to which they subscribe, is criticized. The criticism in effect is an attack on the group to which they have an affinity, but more importantly, it is an attack on their identity. The reaction therefore is to become defensive about their identity, and to attack the “out group” which they perceive as the threat to that identity. A vivid real-life example of this very point is in evidence today when one listens to the pope in his attack on what he terms “new atheists”. Basically he is appealing to all religious people regardless of what religion they ascribe to, to recognise a common enemy. It is important to note that because of the strong evolutionary component involved in the role identity plays in humans, this reaction is not just bred into us, but also perfectly natural. In fact it should be expected in any scenario whereby an individual’s identity is threatened and be proportional to the weighting of that identity, that is to say, that if the identity threatened is of great importance to the individual, the reaction will be stronger than if the identity is of lesser importance. For example a person who is an ardent fan of a particular sports team, and holds only a “cultural” belief in a given religion would be expected to react weakly to a criticism of their religion, but strongly to a criticism of their favoured sports team. Conversely if the person is highly religious and only weakly supports the sports team then the opposite reaction would be expected.

Another interesting implication is that because the selection pressure was in favour of identity formation and not information fidelity, the individuals would not have evolved to care about that fidelity. This means that when contradictions and inconsistencies formed there was no evolutionary penalty if they were not discovered. In point of fact it could be argued that if an individual did uncover and be affected by an inconsistency in the teaching of a superstition, ritual or religion, in such a way as to abandon the practice thereof, then they would be disadvantaged by the subsequent lack of that tool for identity formation. This effectively means that religions would be immune to effects of information fidelity until the environment in which they operate changes sufficiently to allow individuals to suffer no penalty for abandoning that form of identity formation.

The other obvious side effect of religions as a form of identity is that because the individuals are using them as tools for recognizing and identifying who is a part of the “in group” and who is part of the “out group”, then when faced with an atheist they not surprisingly do the same. This means that they fundamentally misunderstand the atheist position since they confuse the identity and the claims which their superstition makes and then transpose those same two very different things unto atheism. Again it is important to realize that they would not be consciously making the assumption but rather humans have evolved in such a way that this is what they do when faced with an unfamiliar person. We try to identify what we have in common, and in some cases we falsely identify a trait as something we also possess. In this case the false assumption is generated because the person is trying to categorize whether the atheist is part of the “in group” or “out group”, when in fact the atheist’s position is simply a lack of belief in the TRUTH of the religion and has no evolutionary tie to identity formation as religion does. Actually, atheism would have had a negative correlation to evolutionary success since the lack of belief runs contrary to the very thing which made rituals and superstitions advantageous, namely that the rituals would not have helped the atheist form the inter-communal bonds needed to form a strong group identity or sense of belonging, and hence they would not have felt compelled to go the extra mile when hunting and gathering. It is possible that this may also have affected the atheist’s ability to find a mate within the group and successfully pass on the genes for free-thinking.

“Hold on”, I hear you cry, “surely atheism is used for identity formation too, after all, it is a part of the Rational Skeptics Society’s identity?!” This is absolutely correct, but let me repeat the point I made earlier, if the environment in which the selection pressure which favours rituals as identity formers changes sufficiently, then the door opens for identity formers which are devoid of ritual and superstition. This is exactly what has occurred in the very recent past, allowing for skeptical groups to form without an evolutionary penalty. In short, while atheism may be used as a tool for identity formation, it still is not a belief system.

So what have we learned? If we view religion as a way of explaining the universe we see around us, we run into the fact that all religions contain fundamental inaccuracies which render them useless for the task. However, if we look at religion as being a tool individuals use to form both personal and group identities, then the problems of inaccuracies in its teaching as far as truthfulness goes, disappear. Moreover, we can clearly see how religion operates under the remit of evolution by natural selection.

That’s it for this episode of Talk Sense, I hope you have enjoyed the show and don’t forget to visit the site at http://www.rationalskepticssociety.com/. Until next time goodbye, and remember; God doesn’t exist, 911 was not a conspiracy, vaccinations are a GOOD idea, and if alternative medicine worked it wouldn’t be alternative. Deal with it!!

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Silly little season

So maybe it’s just me, but has anyone else noticed this “christmas” thing? Seems like it’s everywhere these days, like you can’t sit down without hearing a jingle on the radio or seeing a colored light …

Ok, so maybe that’s just me being a little pedantic about the whole thing. Actually, I like this time of year – this silly season as my father calls it – with all the hussel and bussel as it were. A month long theme holiday, with much of the time spent preparing for one single days worth of merriment. Or 12 depending on how you put it together (I like vacations too). To hear some speak, this joyous time is a direct result of the importance of the day being celebrated and I agree; not every day you decorate a conifer and give gifts to people you rarely see anymore. Of course, most of those in our Western countries tend to be thinking of the birth of Jesus on the 25th of December, which just happens to be Christmas Day. Coincidence, no?

Actually, no it ain’t, but we have all heard the historical information that the 25th is a bastardization of the Winter Solistice (actually on the 21st), a delightfully pagan little holiday complete with pagan rituals like giving gifts and decorating trees. Co-opt something popular like that and you’ll bask in the light of acceptance as well. But some take it one step further and argue that the thing that is doing the co-opting (JESUS) is the reason that this time of year is so peaceful and so full of joy and caring and blah blah blah. Actually, given the amount of turmoil on this planet daily, one gets the impression of rose coloured glasses, but I digress. It is special, they argue, precisely because of the imagined birth of a fairy tale character.

I tend to disagree, if that was not obvious already. Yes, this time of year is special, of that there is little doubt, at least among Western nations. Is it because of Christ and all that meandering? Sort of – the Christians can only lay claim to being partially to blame that it all occurs specifically in this month and not in some other. They co-opted a very popular set of ideas so they can’t exactly take all the credit. Then why is it so special. Is it because there is just something about this month? Is there magic in the air?

Nope – you know full well that magic is bullshit as is there something being special about this portion of the time stream. The planet was moving the day before and will be the day after in the same way it always does. Rivers continue to flow, the wind still blows, people still need to eat and sleep and pass waste. The 25th is little different than the 26th or the 24th … and yet one can undeniably state that the day seems special. Why? Well, I have an explanation. Now, I can’t say that my take on it is the “SUPER CORRECT OUTLOOK” or anything, but I will say that mine is rational on a philosophical level. Why? Easy – because we make it special. If there were no coloured lights, no special cakes and treats served only at that time, no holidays and no gift exchange, what would the 25th be other than the one after the 24th and before the 26th. If there was no special effort to shop for others, to see friends and family, special movies that marked the occasion or traditions that are followed … if we did not play the countless seasonal songs, if the Christians did not have their candles and wreaths and church events … if there were not special decorations and a special centre piece to the living room and all the other things we do, there would not be a christmas or a special season. Think about it – it is us humans that make this season special. We make the effort to make it special. We make our children anticipate it, we visit people to socialize it and we try to spread some cheer around this time, all in service of this period of time. It is all we can do to make it special. Sure, you can dig in and see that other than the man-made trappings, the 25th is just another collection of seconds, minutes and hours, like any other arbitrary counting scheme. Or you could slap the deep existential part of yourself square in the face and tell it to go to hell – this is a special time precisely because we MADE it that way and you are determined to enjoy it in that manner.

That’s my take. This season is what you and all of us make of it. Take the time and the effort to make it special and it will be. Uplifting, no? 🙂

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